Is Swimming Without Goggles Bad? (Here’s what to know)


swimming goggles on pool side

Swimming goggles are an important swimming aid used by millions of swimmers worldwide, every day, in pools across the country. But is swimming without goggles bad?

As a general rule, swimming without goggles will cause eye redness and irritation because of eye exposure to pool chemicals such as chlorine and contaminants. Although it is possible to swim without goggles, your underwater vision will be blurred and you risk greater exposure to an eye infection. 

In this article, I am going to cover the following:

  • Is swimming with your eyes open bad?
  • Are goggles important for swimming?
  • Can we train our eyes to see better underwater?
  • When you should avoid goggles?
  • Can you go blind from chlorine water?
  • How do you swim underwater without goggles?
  • How to get a great fitting pair of goggles

Is Swimming With Your Eyes Open Bad?

As a general rule, swimming with your eyes open without goggles is not bad in the short term. However, eye doctors advise we protect our eyes by wearing goggles.

Public swimming pools contain chemicals such as chlorine to help clean the pool and reduce bacteria. However, no swimming pool will be pristine and perfectly clean.

In addition, the chlorine itself will affect your eye, causing redness and irritation over time.

Long-term exposure to chlorine can affect your cornea and overall eye health, as it removes the tear film on your eye (a thin layer of fluid, stopping the eye from becoming dry), making your eye more susceptible to infection.

Some of the most common eye problems associated with overexposure to chlorine and pool water are: [source]

  1. Red Eyes – A temporary effect of redness in the eye caused by blood vessels in the eye dilating. Your eyes will feel dehydrated and it may blur your vision.
  2. Conjunctivitis – This is a bacterial or viral infection picked up from the water itself. Eyes will be very itchy, red and sore.
  3. Acanthamoebic keratitis – This can be caused by wearing contact lens while swimming. An amoeba, which is a single cell organism, becomes trapped under the contact lens and infects the eye. This can lead to severe infection and be very dangerous to your vision. As a result, never wear contact lenses while you swim.

This is why wearing goggles while swimming is recommended by health professions.

Are Goggles Important For Swimming?

Typically, most swimmers’ gym bags will contain a swimsuit, swim cap, and swim goggles.

In addition, when you look at all the professional swimmers, everyone wears swim goggles. It is difficult to find a professional swimmer who does not wear goggles.

But why are goggles so important and popular for swimming?

Here are the benefits of wearing goggles when you swim

1. Improved Visability

Swimming goggles create a tight seal around your eyes, preventing the ingress of water.

While wearing goggles that are well fitted, you should have clear vision underwater.

Having good visibility is important when swimming in busy public pools so you can see where you are swimming to avoid collisions with other swimmers.

In addition, in open water swimming, it is essential to have good visibility so you can navigate waters and see any potential water hazards such as boats.

2. Protects The Eye

As goggles prevent excess saturation of pool water, it protects the eye from the harsh pool chemicals such as chlorine and reduces the risk of bad bacteria getting into the eye while swimming.

It is for this reason that most eye doctors will recommend you wear goggles while you swim.

Wearing swim goggles protects the eye from irritation, redness and infection from poor quality water.

3. Improved Swimmer Performance

With better visibility in the water comes better swim performance.

There is a reason all professional and competitive swimmers wear goggles; it helps them to have good visibility while swimming and allows them to focus more on their swim technique and less on navigation.

If you have blurred vision while swimming, it can be hard for your brain to relax and focus on stroke techniques.

4. Enables Long Term Swimming

Long-term exposure to chlorine and pool chemicals will dry out the eye and cause irritation.

If you swim regularly and want to maintain eye health long term while swimming, then it is recommended that you wear swim goggles.

You may be fine with some short swims without goggles, but long term the probability of picking up an eye infection, suffering from tired eyes and suffering from dry eyes will increase.

5. Reduces The Risk Of Impact

If you swim at peak times in your busy local pool, you will well know the dangers of being kicked by other swimmers.

In the past, I have suffered a few kicks by other swimmers purely by accident – the pool is busy with lots of legs kicking everywhere!

Wearing goggles will add that bit of extra protection to your face in busy pools.

Also, the visibility that swimming goggles offer underwater will allow you to see the feet of other swimmers and help you decide if you are too close to their feet and need to keep some distance.

Can We Train Our Eyes To See Better Underwater?

It is possible to train our eyes so we can see better underwater, however, we will never have perfect vision underwater.

The Moken people of South-East Asia, whose lives depend on fishing and diving, have underwater vision which is twice as good as Europeans.

It is still debated whether the Moken people have evolved with better underwater sight to support their lifestyle, or if they learned to see better underwater through childhood diving. Either way, they have much better underwater vision than the rest of us.

When Should You Avoid Goggles?

Typically, most eye doctors will recommend that you wear goggles while you swim. However, there is a group of swimmers who might need to avoid wearing goggles.

Swimming goggles work by creating a tight waterproof seal around your eye. Typically, you will know if your goggles fit well because you will feel a light “suction” create by the goggle lens.

This suction or light pressure on the eyeball is caused by intraocular pressure and has been investigated by scientists.

This intraocular pressure (which is the fluid pressure of the eye [source]) can be harmful if it disturbs the pressure balance of the eye.

In general, the intraocular pressure created by swimming goggles has been deemed safe by researchers for average swimmers, [source], however, for patients with glaucoma, this intraocular pressure should be considered and caution taken as an elevation of intraocular pressure is an important risk factor in the development of glaucoma.

Therefore, if you have eye issues and problems, are concerned about your eyes, or plan to swim with eye issues, always consult with your doctor to find out what the best course of action is for you.

Why You Should Learn To Swim Without Goggles

If you are like me, a long-term wearer of swim goggles, you might think, “why would I ever need to learn to swim without goggles?”

I never get in the pool without my goggles and struggle to swim in the sea as the water irritates my eyes. Therefore, I can’t comprehend being without them.

However, it is important for everyone, particularly children, to learn to swim without goggles.

Swim goggles are like a swimming aid for many and we can become over-reliant on them.

You need to be able to swim or be comfortable in the water without goggles, so if you ever find yourself in a water situation without them, you will be able to cope.

Children, in particular, are at risk, as they may be fine in the pool with goggles on, but if they find themselves falling in without goggles, the excess water and lack of visibility in the water may cause panic.

Panic in the water can lead to dire consequences, such as drowning.

Therefore, you should be water confident without goggles in order to survive without them if you ever have to.

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Can You Go Blind From Chlorine Pool Water?

Chlorine itself is a dangerous chemical, however, the chlorine found in pool water is typically less aggressive.

According to Science Focus, chlorine gas can react with the water on the eye to form hydrochloric acid, which can cause blindness. However, the chlorine found in swimming pools is a safer combination of chemicals.

Pool chlorine can cause a host of other problems for our eyes, including:

  • Irritation
  • Conjunctivitis 
  • Red Eye

How Do You Go Underwater Without Goggles?

Personally, I hate swimming without goggles and have very limited underwater vision.

I am always amazed at those who seem to swim effortlessly underwater without goggles.

In summary, here are the steps to swim in chlorinated water with your eyes open:

  1. Check the water chlorine levels are safe. If you are swimming in a public pool, it is expected that the chlorine levels are kept within standard tolerances by the pool staff. If you have a home pool, use a chlorine testing kit to ensure the chlorine levels are safe.
  2. Acclimatise your eyes to the chlorine water by splashing a little water on your face with your eyes open. This will also help you adjust to the water temperature.
  3. Swim with your head submerged and eyes open. You may find that your eyes are uncomfortable and stinging. If this is the case, close your eyes and resurface as soon as you can.
  4. Ensure you rinse your eyes well after being in the water to make sure they are free from any remaining chlorinated water.

Here is a detailed guide for how to swim underwater without goggles with images:

How To Get A Great Fitting Pair of Goggles

Perhaps you swim underwater without goggles simply because you don’t like how goggles fit on your face, or you find your goggles leak so you feel like they are not offering any protection.

If this is the case, you could benefit from finding a great fitting pair of goggles.

All our heads and eye shapes are different, and as a result, there is a large range of goggle types, sizes and shapes on the market. If, like me, you have a particularly small face, you might need a bit of extra help to find the right pair, so check out my article which looks at the best goggles for smaller faces:

The key is to find a pair of goggles that fit you perfectly, and that you absolutely love.

With a great fitting pair of goggles, you won’t notice them on your face when your head is in the water. They will be comfortable and you’ll find that your experience is much better in the water with them on.

Here is what you need to do to check that your goggles fit you well.

Step 1: Ensure The Goggles Have “Anti-Fog” Protection

Step 2: Ensure the goggles do not feel heavy or “too big” for your face.

Step 3: Hold the lens to your eyes, and press the goggles onto your face, with no straps. If the goggles are a good fit, you will feel a light “suction” from the goggle lens. It is this suction that creates a watertight seal, ensuring the goggles do not allow the ingress of water.

Step 4: Do the goggles stay on your face for a few milliseconds with suction alone? If so, you are on the right track.

Step 5: Finally, fit the straps and access the overall fit of the goggles. Shake your head gently from side to side and adjust the straps for a snug fit. The straps are only there to aid the fitting of the goggles. It is the suction from the goggle lens that will keep the goggles in place as you swim.

Step 6: If they meet the above steps, you are on the right track to getting a great fitting pair of goggles. The next step is to jump in and try them out in the pool.

There is some debate about whether the goggle straps should go under or above the swimming cap. I’ve looked at this question in more detail in my article: Do Goggle Straps Go Over Or Under Swim Cap? (Here’s what to know)

Final Thoughts

As someone who has had eye problems and eye infections in the past, I am really particular about protecting my eyes when I swim.

As a result, I always wear swim goggles. Not only do they allow me to see underwater clearly, but they also protect my eyes from chlorine irritation and the ingress of pool debris which can cause eye problems.

Although swimming without goggles is possible, eye health professionals do not advise it and it is far more comfortable and better for the long-term health of your eyes to wear goggles while you swim.

Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

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